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Social media personalization: The opportunity and risks to consider


When you walk into a brick-and-mortar store, you expect a sales associate to greet you and ask how they can help. They’re always available, ready to swoop in and save the day when you want a recommendation, can’t find what you’re looking for, or need help with a return or past order. Consumers expect that same level of service online.

According to The Sprout Social Index™, consumers across age groups agree the most memorable thing a brand can do on social media is respond to customers. And not just respond. Consumers want to feel like your brand is speaking directly to them, addressing their unique preferences and needs.

A chart from The Sprout Social Index that reads: The most memorable brands on social... The top response was respond to customers, with 51% of respondents agreeing. Other reasons included prioritizing original content, engaging directly with audience vs. publishing a lot, publishing timely content, highlight audience and customer stories, take risks, collaborate with creators and influencers, and speak out about causes and news that align with their values.

Evolving your social strategy to meet consumer demands requires you to listen better, scale your customer care efforts and integrate your social and customer data. Your audience expects more from their favorite brands than canned responses. They want to feel like your first priority.

To create an exceptional customer experience, invest in your team’s social media personalization strategy. Learn about your audience on a deeper level. Get your business intelligence house in order. Make room for experimentation. These are critical steps toward nurturing and guarding your brand’s competitive edge and creating a cohesive journey for your audience.

What is social media personalization and why are marketers prioritizing it?

Social media personalization is when brands analyze customer behavior across multiple touchpoints, and deliver highly tailored social content or messages that are appropriate for a specific stage in each buyer’s journey. Personalization makes audiences feel cared for and connected to your brand, which inspires loyalty and conversions.

According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Consumer report, 73% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. Another 56% expect all offers to be personalized. To reach (and exceed) these high standards and make social media personalization a reality, you need a way to integrate customer data—including social data—in one place. A CRM or other customer data collection software is non-negotiable.

When you take a more tailored approach, social media personalization is a way to drive customer trust, brand affinity and revenue.

What you need to build and execute a social media personalization strategy

To personalize customer experiences on social, you need deep customer insights, comprehensive data and assistance from automated workflows. Carve out time for audience research and build the resources and the right infrastructure into your budget.

Audience research

Every audience is different. Research how your customers want to engage with you, and what kind of personalization efforts would resonate most. Consult data reports from trusted publications, survey your customers, collect competitor intel and sift through past social data.

Seek to answer questions like:

  • Where do our customers currently encounter friction?
  • What are our customer satisfaction scores? How do customers rate our service?
  • What are our competitors and other brands doing well that we could learn from?
  • What tactics perform best when retargeting existing customers?
  • What content wows our audience? Which posts drive the most engagement?
  • How comfortable is our target audience with personalization? What tactics would veer into creepy territory?

Once you have a clear understanding of your audience, take stock of business goals that align with social personalization efforts. Let your customer dictate the purpose and direction of your personalization strategy. Then figure out where your customer and business needs intersect.

For example, if your customers want more robust care on social, then your KPI might be increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. If your customers want targeted promotions, then your KPI might be increased revenue from ads and email campaigns.

The right infrastructure

Personalized marketing is only as successful as the processes and tech that support it. Many teams are already experimenting with customer data platforms that maximize the use of first-party data to prepare for Google finally phasing out third-party cookies. These platforms are key to preparing your business for delivering personalized experiences on social.

But customer data platforms are only effective if your team has the training to use them, and if they “talk” to the other tools in your tech stack. The tools also need a layer of usability so that everyone (not just data analysts and IT team members) can get the information they need. Beyond simply collecting and mining customer data, you need to build on it with AI and automation, analytics and segmentation.

As one member of Sprout’s community, The Arboretum, put it, “With increasing amounts of data available, social marketers will focus on delivering highly personalized content to users. Advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques should be [used] to analyze user preferences and behaviors, enabling tailored advertisements and messages.”

A social CRM platform like Sprout’s empowers your team to streamline data collection and distribution, reply to customers and manage your brand’s presence in one place.

A screenshot of the Sprout Social platform that shows a platform user responding to a customer's question. In the right side of the screen, you can see the customer's data, including Salesforce case information, on the screen.

With our Salesforce Marketing Cloud integration, customer data is enriched with social data so you can deliver a world class, omnichannel customer experience. This integration helps teams personalize marketing journeys based on social interactions and inform business strategy with social insights.

A screenshot showing social messages from Sprout appearing in Salesforce through Sprout's Salesforce integration. You can also see case and contact details while replying to the customer message.

Strategic support from AI

Routing hundreds (or thousands) of incoming messages and sifting through millions of customer data points are common barriers to social media personalization. It’s inefficient for marketing teams to be bogged down with these manual, repetitive tasks. Instead they should prioritize meaningful work that requires human intervention. AI solutions help take on the heavy lift of data analysis and deliver insights faster, so that teams can personalize content at scale.

With Sprout’s AI and automation tools, your team can synthesize and manage massive amounts of data so that it’s easier to see what parts of your content you should be personalizing and how. For example, Sprout’s sentiment analysis features analyze incoming messages and classify customer sentiment toward your brand keywords as positive, negative or neutral. This data can reveal areas where customers need more customized support, or when they feel inundated with the wrong messaging.

A screenshot of the sentiment summary in Sprout's Social Listening solution. In the middle of the report is a chart that shows how much positive and negative sentiment there is for the brand. On the right side of the report are messages and their assigned sentiment type. This empowers you to explore what messages and customer feedback is impacting your brand's sentiment.

3 brands experimenting with social media personalization

Some forward-thinking brands have already introduced social media personalization to their strategies. Here’s a roundup of three brands who excel at data-driven targeting, elevated customer care and turning customer insights into content.

The Sill grows their loyal fanbase

The plant delivery service, The Sill, became a personal favorite of mine a few years ago. I regularly peruse their website and social media pages looking for plants that would make the perfect gifts to celebrate the birthdays, engagements and anniversaries of my friends and family. I can assume the company is aware of my activity, as their sponsored posts regularly show up in my Instagram feed.

A screenshot of a sponsored post from The Sill that appeared in the author's Instagram feed. The post includes a video crafted by a creator who talks about the many different plant options offered by the company.

When I recently resubscribed to their email list while shopping on their site, a sponsored post mentioning the plant in my cart popped up in my Instagram feed within minutes. The Sill’s targeted ad strategy provides a seamless cross-channel customer experience that enriches my shopping and keeps the brand top of mind.

A sponsored post from The Sill that includes the text: There are items waiting in your cart. The post is a graphic featuring many plant images.

Considerations: As the pressure builds for your team to rely on first-party data, are you prepared to meet your customer across their purchasing journey? Like The Sill, can you provide sponsored recommendations and reminders to a targeted audience? Are there new opportunities to engage and re-engage your most loyal customers to drive revenue?

Chewy immortalizes pet parents’ love of their fur babies

Chewy, the pet retailer, is renowned for their above and beyond customer care efforts—on social and beyond. They are famous for a campaign where they send their customers hand-painted portraits of their pets to celebrate their birthdays and other milestones.

The tactic is one of many initiatives that have come to define the caring nature of the brand. They also introduced a “connect with a vet” chat feature that allows customers in emergency situations to get expert guidance on pet care best practices.

On social, they’re quick to respond to all incoming messages—especially customer issues—with customer information on-hand, ready to dive in where the customer left off.

Through their personalized approach to customer engagement, the company is building strong customer relationships and going viral along the way. The brand’s activations require collecting data at every point in the customer journey to deliver best-in-class care.

Considerations: How does your team engage your loyal customers proactively? Are you using data to surprise and delight? Can you tie your personalization efforts to retention, upselling or customer lifetime value?

Lox Club caters to audiences of one for content inspiration        

The social team behind dating app Lox Club curates a social presence that is more akin to a TV show. In fact, some of the company’s followers use the brand’s TikTok account to share their own comedic ideas, as if it were a virtual improv show. Like this follower who suggested the brand act out a raunchy take on KPIs in their social video.

By accepting feedback from their followers and turning it into content, Lox Club taps into the most crucial social media personalization truth: Your audience will tell you how they want to interact with you. They will tell you what tone you should strike, how to position your products and when your content is on the right track.

Considerations: What is your audience saying about your brand right now? Can you turn their feedback into tailored content? Have you considered using this personalization tactic to grow awareness in a targeted way?

Pave the way for social media personalization

In 2024, it won’t be enough for your brand to respond to customers. They want to feel like your first priority. To make that a reality, you need to truly understand your audience, and examine how you can evolve your tech stack to meet rising expectations. As you build your strategy, make room for experimentation and use audience intel to shape everything from social customer care to platform-specific content.

For more insights you can use to guide your team into the future, check out the latest edition of The Sprout Social Index™ and learn how shifting customer expectations will usher in a new era of marketing.

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